For as long as people have been selling cars there have been buyers who’ve felt that they’ve been taken advantage of. There’s even an old joke about being able to tell a car dealer is lying because his lips are moving. Obviously not every dealer is dishonest. And a dealer’s “puffing” – giving his opinion on how great a particular car is–isn’t necessarily fraud.
But there is still plenty of auto fraud being perpetrated on consumers, particularly with the increased number of cars being purchased sight-unseen on the internet. Here are a few of the dealer tricks we’ve been seeing:
1) Blatant lies about the car. Some car dealers run the same online advertisement for multiple used cars (ex. all 2006 Honda Civics are advertised with the same information regardless of features, mileage, condition, etc.). We’ve also seen dealers advertise cars as having a single owner when they’ve had as many as five. It’s also common for dealers to tell buyers that a car needs only a small repair that will cost, say, $200, when in fact the repair will cost several thousand.
2) Concealing important information about the car. This could be as simple as not telling you that the car had been in accident or more complicated, like performing “spit and chewing gum” repairs designed to keep the car running just long enough to get it off the lot.
3) Rolling back the odometer. This is as simple as it sounds. Someone rolls back the odometer on a car manually (though not how Ferris Bueller tried it with Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari) and fraudulently increases the value by “reducing” the mileage.
4) Title-washing. If a car has been totaled in a wreck it may be repaired, inspected and certified by the state, then re-sold. If the state certifies the car, it produces what is called a “Salvage” or “Rebuilt” Title. That means the title is stamped to indicate that the car has been in a serious accident. Sometimes scammers will register cars in a different state using the title that was issued before the accident, hoping that the state will not research the car and therefore issue a clean title. The car could then be sold to a consumer with no knowledge of the car’s history or potentially dangerous defects.
The best way you can protect yourself is to do your homework before you buy. We recommend getting a Carfax or AutoCheck report before you sign anything. Also make sure you print out a copy of any advertisement you find online for the car and save copies of any correspondence you have with the seller (also take notes on phone calls). If you’ve already been the victim of auto fraud, give us a call to discuss your situation.